WHEN neglected or abused children hit the headlines, it’s child protection workers who are first in the firing line. We want answers, we scream for blood and blame.
Today, the NSW Department of Corrective Services reported that reports of children at serious risk of harm have risen by 20 percent. Yet caseworker numbers have remained static. Every day these heroic men and women visit Australia’s most traumatised children and do their best to make their lives safer, with minimal funds, time and resources. Children the rest of the country have forgotten. It doesn’t always work. Yet they head out the next day and the next day, facing frustrations, horrors and the occasional triumph that most of us can only imagine.
This incredibly brave and extraordinary caseworker lives and breathes her work every day.
She’s shared her anonymous story exclusively with *******.
The things I’ve seen
“I’ve been working in child protection for eight years. I’m on the front line. In a typical day I’ll see cases of neglect, abuse, drugs and domestic violence. Sexual abuse is rarer but it happens.
“A case that will stay with me forever is a woman who was sexually abusing her own child. She was well-dressed and educated – in fact she wouldn’t come down to the office with us without dolling herself up in makeup first. We interviewed her for hours and she admitted to all sorts of horrific abuse of her nine-year-old daughter. Yet she called it ‘maternal’ and said she ‘liked it’. I remember talking to the mother on the phone some weeks later and I had to put the receiver down and yell every swear word in the book before I could compose myself and talk to her again. My colleagues know they can’t bring that case up with me – I lived it and breathed it and it’s too raw.
“We took that girl into care but she’s now back with her mother. She’s older now though, and her years in care taught her how to stand up for herself. She now tells her mother where to go when she tries it on again.”
We can’t always act fast enough
“I’ll also never forget the young girl who made serious allegations of sexual assault by a family member. She told her school and they didn’t believe her. In fact no one believed her – assessment agencies said she’d made these claims before but retracted them. Yet I stayed on it. I rang every agency I could to have her assessed properly. She’d also said her younger brothers and sisters were being subjected to the same abuse and that night I couldn’t sleep – I had hideous dreams over and over. The next day we got all those kids into care but I couldn’t bear that they spent even one more night there.
’I’d say 90 percent of the time we don’t get to those less urgent cases in the time frame we need to get to them.’
“Often, we don’t respond to cases as fast as we need to. We have three time periods for response: 24 hours, five days and 10 days. The sad fact is, the 10 day cases are often pushed aside for all the other cases we have piling up. I’d say 90 percent of the time we don’t get to those less urgent cases in the time frame we need to get to them. We just can’t. There are too many.
“Since having my own children, I think things touch me even more. I think of them and realise how lucky they are not to live like some of these kids. Yet I’ve had to harden myself to the reality of this job. I force myself to take lunch breaks, not to start too early or stay too late, and to talk things over with colleagues or counsellors if things get too bad. You have to do that or it will eat away at you and you won’t be able to do your job.”
The good moments make it worth it
“Very occasionally, a story ends well. Once I was called to a house with a domestic violence complaint and a small child answered the door naked – he was only about 16 months old. We asked him to get Mummy. He went in to ‘try and wake Mum up’ and we waited and waited. We thought Mum must be dead. But she’d been bashed so hard she couldn’t get up. Eventually we got inside the house but we couldn’t ask her questions or help her as the father was waiting inside and listening. She had to sneak us back outside so he wouldn’t become violent with us.
“The next day the mum got away. She called me on the phone, bawling, The father had taken two of the kids but he didn’t take bottles, nappies, anything for the kids – turned out he was shoving them into rubbish bins to try and find food.
“I said to her, ‘That’s it. You’ve done your dash. We’ve gone to the court and applied for an order to keep him away from you and the kids. You need to leave this relationship’. I forced her to ring the domestic violence hotline – she didn’t like it but she did it. She got away.
“Since then she’s become a stronger person. She’s reported all of the incidents when her ex has breached the orders and he ended up being imprisoned. She’s secured accommodation and she’s done everything right. We were prepared to take all of her children and I think that was what did it for her. It was a really big turnaround – she could see for herself that this man was going to kill her.
“She’s really transformed her life with him gone, and the kids are doing so well. That’s what makes this job worthwhile.”
‘I wish people would understand that our job is not always as straightforward’.
We’re demonised but we care. We really care
“People give us a lot of flack for the work we do, especially when we have to take newborn babies away. Even the staff at hospitals can obstruct us and in some ways I understand that. I look at my babies and I think, imagine if someone took them from me hours after birth? But we do it because we have to. We have to put the children first.
“One time I took a baby away from his mother after he was born and I went to the car and cried and cried, I felt so awful. But many months later, that mum came to me and thanked me for taking her child. She had every problem in the book and she knew it was the right thing to do. And since then she’s cleaned herself up, is attending all the appointments she’s supposed to attend, getting all the help she needs to turn her life around and provide a good home for that baby.
“I wish people would understand that our job is not always as straightforward as the media says. We are understaffed and overworked and we care very much about the work we do. We get lip service from parents who lie about what they will do to help their children. You’re only in there for a very short period of time to make an assessment and you do what you can.”
Please help us help these kids
“People can help us by making sure they get as much detail as they possibly can when they report cases of abuse. It’s not enough to ring and say you think you heard screaming. We need to know who the child is, how old they are, what sort of violence you think may be happening. Try to document your allegations with as much detail as you can – that’s how we can pinpoint exactly what has to be done and make sure that case is top of our pile.
“This job guts me. Some stories consume my very being. But I’ll keep going. When I look into the eyes of my own children I think, ‘This is why I do it.’”
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Originally published as ‘I lived it and breathed it and it’s too raw’